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Totally brilliant and a feast to read
le 23 mars 2011
The minds of people approaching the age of 60 are supposed to be invaded and captured by a first wave of childhood memories. It prompts self-centered Max Morden (MM), age unknown, to write this quite frank and transparent autobiography. So frank that after reading it, two dozen adjectives are insufficient to fully describe MM's own character, whose book is situated on the Irish coast with a view of the sea. Readers might want to make a tally of negative adjectives on MM, and compare them in book reviewing gatherings.
MM is an elderly writer on French painters (a dilettante, second-rater in his own understated judgment), still quite tall, but in mental and physical decline. After the death of his wife Anna he has returned to where all his early life-stirring events and drama began, to The Cedars, the rented house the far wealthier Clare family occupied many decades ago. As a tall 11-year old he befriended the smaller, strange twins Myles and Chloe, fell in love with their mother but later became enchanted with Chloe. Now The Cedars has become a rundown lodging house with an eccentric landlady and only one other occupant of its six rooms for rent, a retired Colonel with set habits. The atmosphere!
From a young age MM has been an acute watcher and every page provides evidence. In his later life, when early memories crop up unaided, MM often links incoming thoughts to paintings he has studied and adores, Bonnard most of all (and de la Tour and Gericault, as MM would like me to add to this review). Late in the autobiography MM admits he has no personality, never had one. It may be the key admission in this brilliantly-paced, tragic and often hilariously-funny account of the life of a person unable to relate to anyone.
John Banville won the 2005 Man Booker Prize with this masterpiece, which is perfectly paced, with surprises hidden throughout the book right until the final pages. On every page the reader is challenged to pick up a dictionary to acknowledge MM's Irish superior way with words. An absolutely great, rich and annually re-readable novel. And the gaps of decades between youth and elderly fumbling are for the reader to fabulate about.